Archive for January, 2014

Ink Sticks: The Evolution of Printing

No longer do workgroups, offices, and households have to deal with leaky cartridges or stains from printer ink. Over the last couple decades, Xerox has been forming a solid ink to be used in printers as a way of applying color to substrates. What they have developed are cartridge-free cubes of solid ink that can be handled just like a crayon. This means less waste, no need to recycle anything as nothing is left over, and no annoying smart chips that prevent users from printing. The ink is simply a solid cube of color that will melt inside the printer and adhere to media passing through the machine.

The ink sticks have similar properties to wax and are a formed from a non-toxic, resin-based polymer, similar to a crayon. This is a unique item that can be handled without fear of smudging on clothes or staining hands or furniture. This breakthrough in ink innovation and color application is also environmentally friendly having a wax-like base that is formed from all natural elements such as plants and food-grade processed vegetable oils.

A huge advantage of the solid ink sticks (also known as color ink stix) is that they do not have any moving, complicated components that the aqueous ink solutions need to be housed in. This eliminates third party manufacturers of cartridge components and keeps everything in house (or made and shipped from one location) for better quality control and care. This will also help to reduce the cost to manufacture the solid ink sticks for lower consumer pricing.

The solid ink sticks are also much easier to transport as their solution will not coagulate in one spot of the cartridge which can cause leaking and uneven ink distribution that lowers the quality and longevity of the applied ink. Moreover, the solid printer ink sticks demand up to 30% less energy to function, lowering the amount of energy needed to print and leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

The Story

In the late 80s and early 90s, scientists started working diligently to bring the next wave of printing advancements to the consumer in the form of an ink replacement that leaves no waste when consumed and will not stain surfaces it comes into contact with. The idea was formed by looking at the design of a stapler, as the staples do not have a need to be housed in a cartridge and are directly loaded into the device with no waste left over after consumption. The replacement staple properties were precisely what they were looking to accomplish with their printer replacement components.

Their ideas culminated on forming a solid ink with no cartridge that users could pick up and load into the printer with their hands. Their main goal for the project was originally to just get color onto the page which turned out to have its own complications. The first concept ink stick required special paper to print onto as the formula would not stick to ordinary surfaces.

Throughout the development process, there were several things to consider in order to bring consumers a product they would actually use and enjoy. For example, when things are complex, they become more expensive for the consumer, so the development team had to find the simplest ways to obtain and create the components that go into the solid ink mixture.

Over the years this solid ink technology has been refined into a crayon like substance that has its own unique properties and molecular makeup. In fact, scientists have created nearly 5000 new molecules and around 700 new dye formulations to create the four standard color ink sticks that provide a wide color gamut and unmatched print quality.

When the ink sticks are printed onto media, they create a thin layer of the resin-like substance on the surface covering anything that was previously on the page. This lets businesses recycle unwanted or used documentation by printing over the unwanted images and texts instead of throwing them out or shredding them. This also gives projects enhanced vibrancy that outclasses inkjet and toner application results.

The formula used to create Color ink sticks are much easier to apply onto substrates making the speeds exponentially higher as well. The steady ink consistency and layering effect of the solid ink sticks give them unmatched printing speeds compared to laser toner and inkjet printing. So far the team at Xerox has been able to reach printing speeds up to 2000 pages per minute, only being limited by the size and power of the stepper motors (or print engines).

Currently, the solid ink sticks are only used in some Xerox printer models including the Xerox ColorQube printers and some Xerox Phaser models.

How Inkjet Printers Work: A Look at the Components

Inkjet printers are all around us and used every day to create a vast array of projects from important documentation to photographs taken just prior. An inkjet printer works by creating extremely small droplets of ink and jetting them onto a substrate or surface passing through the printer. The jet of ink droplets is guided by a series of nozzles contained in printheads and release to create a specific pattern based off layouts given to the printer from a computer or other digital device. Small electrical impulses will trigger the ink cartridges to release or eject ink at the appropriate times, forming dots onto the media and eventually creating images and texts. The inkjet printer will be able to handle simple layouts such as text documents and extremely complex layouts that have details challenging resolution capabilities. Inkjet printers are the most common type of household printer because they generally have a quiet operation and can produce photograph quality results.

What components are needed and how do they work?

Inkjet printers have a lot of internal components that affect the overall quality, speed, reliability, and durability of the printer and its ink cartridges. To better understand how the printer works, an understanding of what components are needed, what their functions are, and how they interact with each other is needed.

The Ink Cartridge

Ink cartridges or inkjet cartridges are the starting point and most recognized component in an inkjet printer, as they are the only component that must be replaced when the ink runs out. There are several different types of ink cartridges and they vary greatly depending on the printer model and manufacturer intended for. Ink cartridges can contain black ink only, black and color ink in a single cartridge, just color inks in a single cartridge, or separate cartridges for each individual color. Many photograph printers will even have light cyan and light magenta cartridges to provide life-like tonality on photograph printouts. The main purpose of the ink cartridge is to house the colorant or ink, until being released into the printheads.

Printheads

The Ink cartridges are directly connected with printheads or contain their own printheads built-into the cartridge. The Printhead is where all the magic happens inside the machine and is the component responsible for guiding the ink onto the page. A printhead consists of a series of tiny nozzles that are used to jet out or spray the aqueous ink solution from the cartridges to the piece of media passing through the printer.

When separate from the ink cartridges, printheads are the component that you snap the ink cartridges into when replacing ink. They look a lot like a trough or sunken in bench with small round protrusions arising into the ink cartridges. The round protrusions will insert into the cartridges when snapping them into place opening a passageway for the ink to travel down during the printing process.

An ink cartridge that contains its own printhead will rest at the bottom of the cartridge and looks like a computer chip or smoothed metal contact filled with tiny circuits and groves. Both printheads, separate and included, are responsible for letting the cartridge know when and where to release the ink.

Control Circuitry

In order to figure out the precise mathematics of when to release ink and when to hold back ink, a Control Circuit is interposed between the printer driver from the host computer and the printer itself. The circuit will actually control where energy is distributed amongst the chip and where to remove current flow. This will cause the ink cartridge to open or close particular nozzles to either start jetting ink out or to stop the flow of ink.

The printer driver on the host computer will translate images and text documents into a mathematical map or grid known as bitmap. The process of translating the images from a computer to a grid is known as the Raster Image Process. This lets the printhead Control Circuit know when to energize a specific spot on the circuit, releasing the ink and when to de-energize an area to stop the flow.

Stepper Motors

A Stepper Motor will rapidly move the printheads and the ink cartridges back and forth inside the machine and across the width of the media passing over every portion of the paper.  The Stepper Motor also has a secondary job of putting the rollers in motion during the printing process. This is achieved in a number of ways from belts to meshing gears, a common way to get multiple parts moving. The purpose of the Stepper Motor is to transform received electrical power into motion, which is basically making the internal components move.

Stabilizer Bar

Included with the printheads is a Stabilizing Bar that evenly distributes force on the printheads when they are in motion, moving quickly back and forth along the media. As the printheads and ink cartridges rapidly move back and forth, the inner particles are pulled from one side to the other. Similar to being in a car that is taking a sharp turn, the centripetal force will push you to one side of the vehicle. The Stabilizing bar helps to keep the cartridges at a steady angle to eliminate or reduce this effect. This will help keep the ink formulations from clotting or collecting in one location of the cartridge. 

Belt

A belt is also one of the components found inside an inkjet printer. Just like the belts used in car motors, the printer belt is used to rotate additional parts. A belt is generally banded to a rotating component on a motor and stretched to wrap around other components that need to rotate. When the motor is powered on, a magnet will rapidly start rotating inside the motor causing external components on the motor to also spin or rotate. The belt uses the spinning force of the motor to spin or rotate the other parts that need to move.

In the inkjet printer, the belt is connected to the printhead assembly from the stepper motor, in order to move the ink cartridges back and forth inside the machine. Belts can also be used to assist the rollers found inside printers.

Rollers

The purpose of the rollers is very simple. They are used to carry or drive a piece of media (usually paper) through the printer. The rollers will grab a piece of media from the top of the stack placed inside the designated Input Tray and will transport that piece of media underneath the printheads and ink cartridges before ejecting the finished printout to the Output Tray. Some office inkjet printers that have Automatic Duplex capabilities can even have rollers that drive the media back through the printer to expose the reverse substrate underneath the printheads to create two-sided printouts.  

Paper Trays

Another very recognizable component of the printer is the Paper Trays. Typically Inkjet printers will have a single Input Tray located at the top or back of the printer and a single Output Tray located in the front of the machine. Another common tray configuration is to have the Input Tray and Output Tray conflated into a single front-feeding tray. When both are used as one tray, such as with the HP PSC series printers, the tray will usually have small mounting members on either side of the tray to elevate the printed material from entering back through the printer. These also act as guides when loading new media into the Tray and as a divider between the Input and Output sections of the tray.

Power Supply

To supply power to the stepper motor and control circuitry a standard power supply has been incorporated into the printer. The purpose of the power supply is to convert the alternating current (AC) from a wall outlet to more controllable direct current (DC), needed to operate the stepper motors and circuitry inside printers. The power supply is also responsible for lighting up and energizing additional features such as display screens and scanning equipment.  

Interface Ports

Also included with inkjet printers are ports that allow users to connect and transfer digital data between devices. The most common printer interface is the Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port which was created to outperform the older IEE Parallel interfaces. The Hi-speed USB 2.0 ports also broaden the range of external peripherals or devices that can be connected with the printer. The Interface ports main purpose is to provide a means to transfer data (usually text documents and images) from the computer to the printer and vice versa.

Photograph inkjet printers will typically have compatible media card slots as well, that allow users to walk-up and plug media cards and flash drives directly into the printer to print the files and photographs on the card without needing a computer.

These are the main components that can affect the output quality, durability, and performance of an inkjet printer and its ink cartridges. Hopefully this will help you identify and possibly prevent or fix any issues that are occurring with your machine. 

What’s the Difference between Genuine, Remanufactured, and Compatible Ink Cartridges?

With the elevated prices of inks and toners these days, Remanufactured and Compatible cartridges are becoming the more popular choice to replace old or used ink and toner cartridges with. Both Remanufactured and Compatible cartridges are offered at only a fraction of the price the OEM or Genuine ink and toner cartridges are available for and they all contain identical printer compatibility and page yield specifications. So why are there three different choices of cartridges to choose from and what’s the difference between them?

OEM / Genuine Cartridges

OEM ink cartridges and OEM toner cartridges are also known as Genuine ink and Genuine toner cartridges.

OEM is an abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacturer which means the item comes from the company that built the main equipment or printer in this case. OEM cartridges are created completely from scratch and require a lot of oil to manufacture. Companies such as Brother, HP, Canon, Xerox, Kodak, Dell, and so forth are all OEM or brand name companies that offer Genuine ink and toner cartridges to replace the cartridges that came with the printer during the purchase.

Since each component of the cartridge is created from scratch at the brand name manufacturer’s facility, Genuine cartridges tend to be the least environmentally friendly replacement. Several ounces of oil are used to produce an average sized ink cartridge and toner cartridges, being much bigger components, use nearly a gallon of oil to be created. These replacement cartridges also need new rubber, plastic, foam, metal, paper, and inks or toner powder to complete the component.

These companies make the necessary arrangements for their printers and cartridges to work well together and spare no expense in doing so. OEM companies try to use the best quality parts and fill their cartridges with the best quality inks and pigments to give their customers a high quality consumable product. Unfortunately this makes the components significantly more expensive, ranging from 2 to 5 times higher than their Remanufactured and Compatible counterparts.

Compatible Cartridges

Much like the OEM cartridges, Compatible cartridges are made from scratch and are completely new components. A compatible cartridge is made from a third party manufacturer or company with the intension of bringing consumers a cheaper or more affordable alternative when it comes to replacing ink and toner. These cartridges are not made from the Original Equipment Manufacturer or brand-name Company but are intended to function and work the same way that an OEM cartridge would.

Many of these third party manufacturers use the same elements, steps, and regulations as the OEM companies to create their compatible cartridges for a product that matches or replicates the overall functionality and quality of the genuine cartridge. The quality of a Compatible cartridge will depend on the quality of company making the cartridge and distributing the cartridge.

If an extremely cheap price is available, way below what their competition is offering the same Compatible cartridges for, chances are these replacements are simply garbage and will not print with any consistency or quality if they print at all. Make sure the distributor ensures that all their products have been ISO certified and try to deal only with companies that are accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), as these companies follow stricter guidelines and bring comparable products to the scene.

Chances are that an LC 103 ink cartridge you found for a Brother DCP and MFC printer being sold at $1.99 per cartridge is too good to be true.

Remanufactured Cartridges

Remanufactured Cartridges are the absolute best replacement alternative for the environment. Remanufacturers refill depleted ink and toner cartridges, keeping tens of thousands of pounds of industrial-grade metals and plastics out of landfills each year. Remanufacturers start with recycled cartridges and components and use them to recreate and redistribute cartridges back to the consumers.

Recycled cartridges are delivered to these remanufacturers to start the process of bringing consumers a cheaper alternative component to replace ink and toner with. These remanufacturers will first Inspect, Sort, and Grade all the recycled components and keep only the most premium pieces to ensure optimal output quality. The remaining pieces or non-conforming components are dissembled and recycled appropriately.

Once the pieces have been sorted and graded, they are split open and thoroughly cleaned before being refilled and resealed. After being sealed, factory trained technicians will assemble all cartridges with OEM grade components then send them off to be tested and packaged for quality control.

Quick Overview

In a nut shell, OEM cartridges are from the product manufacturer, Compatible cartridges are from a third party looking to provide a cheaper replacement, and Remanufactured cartridges are simply cleaned and refilled OEM cartridges. At Inkgrabber, we always recommend the less expensive Compatible and Remanufactured cartridges from Inkgrabber.com, as they significantly lower the cost to operate each printer and are tested thoroughly to ensure top quality printing results. We also offer Inkgrabber coupons that will help lower the cost of our Remanufactured and Compatible inks and toners.

The Chicagolands Best Kept Brewing Secret: PapaNicholas Coffee Blend

The man behind the brilliance:

Nicholas A PapaNicholas grew up in the 1930s helping his father and uncle in the family’s gourmet coffee business where he learned traditional European roasting techniques and the best locations to cultivate coffee beans. The rich, indulgent aroma of roasting and grinding coffee has always been a cherished moment of his childhood and he’s wanted nothing more than to share his fond memories and likeness for true premium coffees with the rest of the world.

In the early 1980s, in pursuit of his vision to bring fine gourmet coffee blends to households and grocers everywhere, he started the PapaNicholas Coffee Company. Today, the company uses the same time-honored traditions and techniques passed to Nicholas A PapaNicholas, to bring household consumers some of the finest specialty coffee blends from around the planet. 

The PapaNicholas Coffee Company currently has over 50 varieties of premium whole bean and freshly ground coffee blends to choose from that are harvested, roasted, and ground daily for the highest quality, flavor, and aroma possible. The company also takes advantage of one-way freshness valves for better tasting and smelling grounds.  

The company maintains freshness as their #1 priority, utilizing temperature controlled underground storage facilities and the “Fast-Pack” system, which minimizes the time from the roaster to the package. The one-way valves on the packaging are an industry standard for top premium roasters to use on their large bags of coffee as a freshness measure.  PapaNicholas takes this concept to a whole new level, employing them on every package, even their 1.75 ounce single pot packs to guarantee freshness with every cup of PapaNicholas Coffee.

The best part about PapaNicholas Coffee is they roast their coffee to order, meaning that each scoop is personally roasted for unmatched quality and flavor. Many large chain or corporate coffee roasting distributors will over-roast or burn their beans to maintain production. Thus why a chain coffee shops’ cup of coffee will always taste the same no matter where you pick it up, burnt. With PapaNicholas, each batch is roasted depending on the orders they receive throughout day to meet customers’ preferences and to enhance the overall coffee experience.  

PapaNicholas offers five different levels of roasting from a light American Roast to a dark Italian / Espresso roast.  In general, a lighter roast will have a sweeter flavor and a higher amount of caffeine, whereas the darker roast has less caffeine but a richer and stronger flavor. With PapaNicholas’ select roasting process and premium beans found around the world, PapaNicholas delivers a superior cup of joe with great body, enhanced smoothness, and comforting flavors. 

What’s in this stuff: Ink Chemical Composition?

Ink cartridges contain some of the most expensive liquid on the planet, but what is ink actually made of?

Impact

The ink itself, after being sold in cartridges at brand name retail prices, can reach upwards of $3 per milliliter which is around $235 per cup or $11,350 per gallon. No doubt, that is expensive any way you look at it and some even compare modern printer ink prices to fine caviars and gold. A lot of printer inks now cost even more to replace then the printer originally cost, begging the consumer to ask, why not just purchase a new printer instead of replacing the ink?

To answer the latter question, printer manufacturers do not advertise the amount of printouts that are possible with the cartridges found inside the box when buying a new printer. This is because they are starter ink cartridges and are intended for consumers to get an idea of what the printer output is like or capable of and not necessarily how much ink will be in a replacement cartridge.  Thus, replacement ink cartridges will always yield more printouts then the included cartridges when purchasing a new printer.

The Mixture

Most ink compositions are a fairly basic mixture of fine pigment particles dispersed in a solvent which is generally a liquid or aqueous solution, although the solvent can be organic. Some formulations will also have colorants when the pigmented materials do not apply to the desired color. And with advanced formulas of inks such as the ChromaLife 100+, DURAbrite, UltraChrome, and other specially named inks, further ingredients are added to improve the overall chemical composition.

The additional ingredients found in these specialty cartridges have a specific purpose from reducing foaming action to controlling surface properties. The addition of pH modifiers will help to control the acidity levels of the mixture so the composition does not corrode the metal printheads inside the machine. Humectants can be added to keep the mixture from prematurely dying a substrate or surface while surfactants act as wetting agents, helping to control surface properties. Defoaming or antifoaming agents can also be added to regulate foam formation, as foam creates air pockets and uneven ink flow. Thickeners or rheology modifiers can also be added to provide needed viscosity to the jetted out liquid ink. Perhaps the most common addition to ink compositions is the polymeric resins or polymers which give pigments or colorants a glass-like coating that protects, reflects light, and keeps particles from binding or clumping together. And to prevent fungal and bacterial growth that can spoil chemical ink compositions, biocides are also added.

Metal Colorants

Black ink cartridges still use carbon to achieve the black tonal output as past attempts at substituting carbon for other metals failed due to toxicity or financial reasons. Most white ink formulations have titanium dioxide, being rutile or anatase crystals in tetragonal form. Both anatase and rutile are just different forms of titanium dioxide known for their rich color and luster. Moreover, specific metallic pigments such as copper-zinc alloy powder and aluminum powder have been used in novelty gold and silver inks which are very rare. Some other miscellaneous inorganic pigmented metals have also been used in various photographic inks to provide luminescent and pearlescent effects.

Colorants

Cyan ink cartridges get their bright blue hue from Direct Blue 199 dye which is made of copper phthalocyanine and sulfur. This substance is a direct dye, being able to directly contact and bond to fibrous substrates like paper and cloth without needing a binding confounder or fixative.

The Magenta vibrancy comes from Reactive Red dye 23 which is a dark red powder that has a high pH level and high lightfastness (resistance to fading in light). Many formulations containing Reactive Red Dye 23, will need both a pH modifiers and a confounder to help hold the mixture to a substrate before the dye reacts and adheres to cellulose like material.

The Yellow coloration comes from Acid Yellow dye 23, which is also known by chefs and food fanatics because it’s a common coloring agent used in foods. And although Acidic Yellow Dye 23 is found in foods, this dye has been known to trigger allergic reactions such as asthma attacks, hives, and contact dermatitis so do not try to ingest this yellow ink as it may be hazardous unlike its more natural cousin, yellow food coloring.

Miscellaneous Materials

Cyclahexanone is an organic solvent or colorless oil that helps ink adhere to polymers, making this chemical ideal for outdoor use and application on smooth surfaces. Cyclahexanone is also a precursor to creating nylon when oxidized with nitric acid. This substance is also commonly found with reactive dyes as it will hold the pigments in place until they naturally react to cellulose like material.

Ethoxylated acetylenic diols is the most common surfactant that is responsible for the viscosity or reduction of surface tension in most ink formulations. This substance is a low foaming wetting agent that also improves freeze-thaw stability of acrylic systems.  Ethoxylated acetylenic diols is also an excellent, oil in water, emulsifier.

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, more commonly known to be abbreviated as EDTA, is a colorless water-soluble solid used to dissolve limescale and keep the printheads clean and bacteria free. EDTA acts by creating covalent bonds on the printheads, effectively trapping contaminents from ruining or clogging printheads.

Furthermore, Ethylene glycol is also used frequently in ink cartridges to slow evaporation and to help prevent print nozzles from clogging.

Further Reasons for Expenses

Hp claims the reason for the lavish prices is due to the technology put into creating a cartridge that can deliver superior results. Not only does each cartridge contain multiple chemicals, each one is carefully measured out and thoroughly tested to ensure the output results can be replicated naturally. This means, you’re not really paying for the liquid so much as the labor put into designing, creating, and testing the cartridge. Some manufacturers also add other elements to cartridges such as smart chips and piezo crystals which also increase the retail price.


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